Fallout 4 has just released to mixed reviews and people are already turning their sights toward the inevitable Elder Scrolls VI. Keep in mind that we are unlikely to hear anything about the next instalment in the award winning franchise until 2017 at the earliest as there is still the matter of Fallout 4 DLC to be released, not to mention other big Bethesda games like DOOM and Dishonoured 2.
That being said though, it is a safe assumption that The Elder Scrolls VI is being worked on as I type this. In this article I will be looking at ways in which a sequel to 2011’s Skyrim could surpass its predecessors.
As I said at the start, Fallout 4 was released with conflicting opinions among gamers. Many were disappointed and underwhelmed by what the game had to offer. I felt that the game was solid enough but should have been so much more. I felt this even more strongly with Skyrim. At least Fallout 4 added mechanics like armour pieces and settlement creation. Skyrim only reduced mechanics from previous games. We were given less armour, less weapons and less skills. A game that was toted as the ultimate RPG offered little in the way of actual role-playing. Most playthroughs ended with you wearing the same armour, using the same weapon and being the leader of every group in the country. There is no diversity or variety that you would expect from an Elder Scrolls game.
I feel that there are three main focus points that Bethesda need to address in order for them to meet the expectations that come with being the biggest RPG developers. They are all very basic and should never have been ignored in the first place. They are Narrative, Difficulty and Variety.
Since I touched on variety earlier we will start there. Skyrim had so little variety that it was laughable. Let’s look at Daedric weapons as an example. In Skyrim (base game) there are eight types of Daedric weapons. This covers light, heavy and ranged combat. In Morrowind there are seventeen types of Daedric weapons.That is a pretty big difference, right? It isn’t even about the states and styles of these weapons but about how your character appears. When I go to a friends house and see that their Skyrim character looks the same as mine it is disappointing. You realise that your character isn’t unique.
This is also true of armour, in both how many types there are and how many items you can wear. Like with the weapons, Skyrim had the least amount of armour options in any Elder Scrolls game. This was made worse by how few armour slots you had. Skyrim only has four slots for actual armour. Boots, Gloves, Chest and Helmet. I can’t even describe how senseless combining trousers and chest together into a single slot was. Want to go shirtless to show of your impressive sixpack? Tough. Its have your full body covered or run around in only your underwear. Morrowind has eight armour slots, and that’s not including clothes and robes that can be worn at the same time as armour. We so this lack of variety in spell selection too, especially since the ability to create and customise spells like in previous games was removed.
So how do we solve this? Simple. Add more weapons, spells and armour. We don’t even need to go to the lengths of Morrowind, just give the players so choice. I think that Fallout 4 actually offers the best solution: customisation. Fallout 4‘s weapon and armour creation system allows you to take a limited number of items and vastly increase their variety. Cosmetic changes and small tweaks in performance can make a whole world of difference. Have a slightly longer blade for more reach but increased weight. Add a serrated edge for more damage but lower the weapon’s durability, (if durability is a mechanic that gets re-added). Like spikes on your armour? BOOM! Spikes for days. Wrap yourself in bandages to look brooding and cool? Sure, why the hell not. Then characters would look and perform differently without needing to add a tonne of new stuff.
On to the second issue. The storytelling in Skyrim kinda sucks. Narrative in RPGs is never brilliant because of constraints that the genre has in regards to actual role-playing. That being said though, Skyrim just felt lazy.
The main story revolves around the return of the dragons. You kill a dragon and absorb its soul, thus finding out that you are the Dragonborn. You clime a mountain to see some old men who teach you how to shout at things then have to work out how to kill the boss dragon, find said dragon and kill it. That is it. There are no twists, no revelations, no tragic moments and no real motivation to do it. I mean, Alduin saves your life at the start of the game then you instantly set out to kill him. The dragon never hurts you or anyone you care about. The only word that comes to mind to describe the main story in Skyrim is “meh”.
And the meh doesn’t stop there. There was a big war between elves and the empire. It is mentioned a lot but never seems to actually have any impact on the game except as a set up to the civil war story which in itself seems underwhelming and incomplete. Then there are the guild quests which, while more narratively focussed than in previous games, are all the exact same. You join the guild, get sent on a simple quest that turns out to be bigger than expected, the guilds leader is killed, you solve the problem and then are given control of the guild. EVERY. SINGLE. GUILD. Like, dude, I’ve only been in the College for a day and have cast a single spell in my life to get across the bridge in the entrance exam. I am not Archmage material.
Morrowind was engaging because you were taken to a strange land for mysterious reasons and were trying to piece together why you were their, puzzling out your destiny and the undercurrents of the land gradually. Oblivion had you embroiled from the get go in the Emperor’s assassination, the quest for a successor and a god’s attempt to distort the very plains of reality. Skyrim tells you to kill a dragon…
You can go wrong in the other direction too though. Fallout 4 tried to be too narrative driven at the cost of the player’s ability to role-play. By basing the game on the quest to find your son, Fallout 4 has already limited the player created narrative. What if they wanted their character to be gay? What if they wanted to play as someone young and naive? What if they hate humanity? There is little room to create a personalised background when so much is set in stone. Your character can’t really be evil in dialogue and everything resolves around finding a son that you may not even care about.
Finding the right balance can be hard but is arguably one of the key elements to the success of a modern game. The Elder Scrolls used to be the top dog of fantasy games but now it has some serious competition. Recent games such as The Witcher 3 have shown that players still desire compelling narratives and the bar for fantasy has been set to an all time high. Bethesda cannot rest on their laurels.
And so onto the final point: Difficulty. Nobody is saying that The Elder Scrolls needs to become Dark Souls. This point isn’t particularly in regards to how easy players can kill enemies. It is more to do with how easy it is to do, well… anything.
In Skyrim there is no need to pick a direction and develop it. You are constantly a jack-of-all-trades, a master of everything and everybody’s best friend. As stated before, you become guild leader of every faction basically overnight and are the renown Dovahkin after your first main story quest. You never feel small. In Morrowind and Oblivion you worked your way to the top, earning every accomplishment with hard work. You rise through the ranks of the guilds and you slowly take on the mantle of hero. Skyrim hands it all too you on a silver platter.
There needs to be consequences to make your actions feel important. The only choice of consequence in Skyrim is which side of the war to support and ultimately it makes no difference. This links in again with variety and creating unique characters and experiences. Your choices should change the world for better or for worse. In Morrowind there are the three main houses to choose between and in Fallout 4 there are the factions that you need to side with. These choices change what quests you perform and alters the game’s world slightly. In Skyrim your character becomes all powerful yet the player can change and affect nothing.
So there you have it. Those three points are what needs to be addressed in order for The Elder Scrolls VI to live up to expectation. Add variety, tell compelling stories and make the player work for their rewards. Of course there are other factors too like a new engine but they will be the deciding factors.